Is Jordan Legal?

The original partition of Palestine, into an Arab entity and a Jewish one, made the dividing line the Jordan River. This original partition was enshrined within international law and remains the only legal partition to this very day. Jordan has been, from the very start of the original mandate, an Arab state in eastern Palestine. The Jewish people have never given up their international legal right to the so-called West Bank. Furthermore, international legal bodies have never legitimately argued that the Arabs have a right to more than one state within the entirety of the territory named by the League of Nations as Palestine.

In 1947, the United Nations attempted a partition of western Palestine into a second Arab state and an extremely truncated Jewish one. The Jews accepted this second partition, and the Arabs (on both sides of the Jordan River) rejected it. Within months, the armies of numerous Arab states, including Palestinians and Jordanians, attempted to strangle the infant Jewish state and abort its sovereignty over any part of the mandated territory west of the Jordan River. In the process, the illegal occupation of the West Bank by Jordan became a de facto reality. To claim any territory west of the Jordan River as legitimate Arab territory is to reward this original aggression, and this claim has no basis in international law.

The vast majority of Palestinian Arabs historically rejected the western partition of the originally mandated territory, and they remain adamant in their rejection to this very day. Most Palestinian Arabs today do not believe in a so-called West Bank state other than as a stepping stone to the eventual defeat of Israel and its removal as a nation-state from the Middle East. There is a sizable proportion of young Palestinians who want to create a bi-national state, with an Arab majority and a military force which would be Arab-controlled.

However, in no way do these so-called “proposals” constitute any semblance of international law. The partition of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab, within the original geographical framework of mandated Palestine in conjunction with UN Security Council Resolution 242, remains the basis of international law. It would be a total renunciation of justice for there to be a second Arab state within the territory of the original mandate. The Jewish people of Israel reject any concept other than two states for two peoples. They certainly reject the idea of a bi-national state where they would be a minority without self-defense or sovereignty.

It is within this premise (two states for two peoples), and in conformity with the original partition of the land, that any claim other than the complete legality of Jewish settlements within the territories of Judea and Samaria is both discriminatory and an international reward for Arab aggression. If it is illegal for Jews to establish a presence in some of the territory west of the Jordan River, then the original partition of the land at the river must be equally illegal. To claim otherwise would mean that Israel has fewer rights than either Jordan or its majority Palestinian citizenry.

Jordan attacked Israel in 1948 and illegally occupied territory west of the river. Before this Jordanian invasion, there was no such thing as the West Bank. Jordan occupied this territory in war, not to establish a second Arab state within the originally mandated area of western Palestine. On the contrary, it attacked in a war of total annihilation against a legitimate, UN-sponsored state — Israel.

Jordan’s purpose wasn’t in accordance with international law. If Jordan had wanted a second Arab state within the original mandated territory, it would have persuaded the Palestinians west of the river to accept the 1947 UN proposal. But Jordan didn’t do that, and Jordan wasn’t defeated by the Israeli armed forces. Instead the war between Jordan and Israel ended in a stalemate with an armistice line west of the river and the division of Jerusalem. There was never an official border. Jordan didn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist, and Israel never recognized Jordan’s illegal occupation of this brand new entity called the West Bank.

Jordan occupied land that literally had no sovereign, but whose original designation had been for a Jewish homeland. Similarly, the Palestinians never protested against Jordan’s illegal occupation because — if they did — they would have been forced to acknowledge Israel’s UN legitimacy. In no way did the Palestinians ever object to the failure of the Jordanian monarch to establish a mini-state on the West Bank. On the contrary, throughout the 1950s the Palestinians protested against the Jordanian monarchy because they wanted to establish their own Palestinian state on both sides of the Jordan River. In fact, the Palestinian Arabs never accepted the legitimacy of either Jordan or Israel.

To call the territory of the West Bank “Palestinian” is to claim that the Arab rejection of Israel in 1948 — and the ensuing aggression — was acceptable. The same is true for the year 1967. The Six-day War wasn’t fought by Jordan and the other Arab states in order to establish a West Bank Palestinian sovereignty. It was fought to annihilate Israel. From 1947 through to the Arab aggression against Israel in May of 1967, the Arab states and Jordan could have claimed the West Bank for the Palestinians, but they never did. Why not? Because their goal was never peaceful. It was less than a decade later, after another war (1973) and an unsuccessful attempt to wrest the West Bank back into Arab hands, that the Palestinians finally claimed that sovereignty over a portion of Palestine would be temporarily acceptable.

UN resolution 242 established the principle that the future of the territory known as the West Bank must be decided through negotiations between Israel and the other states of the region. While it does say that the acquisition of land is not permissible through war, it never specifies the West Bank as either Palestinian or Jordanian. Nor does it OVERTURN (through specific language) the original partition at the Jordan River as a formal institution within international law. Jewish rights within the original mandate were never denied by UN 242. If they had been, then the Jordanian occupation of 1948 would have been considered legal, and the Jordanian acquisition of the West Bank would have made Jordan the land’s sovereign. But Jordan is not the sovereign of the West Bank, and neither are the Palestinians.

Israel has rights within Judea and Samaria, yet it doesn’t hold sovereignty. But to say that the land is Palestinian is not only to deny Israel its rights, it is against international law. If the Jewish settlements on the so-called West Bank are illegal, then the original partition of Palestine is also null and void, and therefore the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is also illegal. The original partition of the land at the Jordan River is what eventually established the Kingdom of Jordan. Israel was established through war, when it was attacked by Palestinians and Arabs states after the Arabs rejected Israel’s legitimate, UN-sponsored right to exist.

Is Jordan legal? Only as long as Israel’s rights within Judea and Samaria are maintained. What gives the Hashemite monarchy any rights within mandated Palestine? The answer is simple: Jordan was created through the League of Nations partition of Palestine into an Arab zone and a Jewish zone. The Hashemite monarchy was placed on the throne through this internationally mandated action. Originally, both sides of the Jordan River were to be established as a Jewish homeland, while the rest of the Levant was to be a singular Arab state.

The Jewish community accepted the original division of Palestine at the river. Jordan and the Palestinians did not. If Jewish rights are secondary to Arab rights (and the settlements are illegal) then the original partition at the river is also illegal. If this is the case, then it would be correct to imply that Jewish sovereignty could still legitimately be established east of the river.

Israel should never accept the existence of two Arab states over and above a truncated and highly vulnerable Jewish state. If the head of the UN doesn’t understand the historical legal antecedents to the hundred-year-old conflict, then what hope is there for such an international institution to understand anything other than pure power politics? The Jewish state will not be dictated to by the UN or anyone else. If it is, then everything and anything become possible.

Israel doesn’t occupy Palestinian territory, because not a single Arab agreed to the UN’s second partition of the land. Through their aggression, the Arabs nullified the second partition. But Israel doesn’t own the so-called West Bank either. However, Israelis have as much right to live on this land as do any of its Arab-Palestinian residents. In fact, Israel probably has a greater claim within international law, given that the territory was originally designated as a Jewish homeland.

The Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty remains incomplete at the border of the West Bank. Until the future sovereignty of this territory is decided through negotiation (and negotiation only) Israel has every right to continue to establish villages and cities for its people. To say otherwise is to place the issue of sovereignty squarely within the scope of the originally mandated territory — i.e., all of eastern Palestine (Jordan), Israel and the disputed West Bank. In other words, if Israelis cannot live in any part of western Palestine because of international fiat, then the sovereignty of the entire territory (including Jordan) is put in complete limbo.

Is Jordan legal? Yes, but only as long as Jewish settlements on the West Bank are also considered legal as well.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).
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